The broadcaster has developed a server-based platform where everyone from field reporters to the evening anchor can access, edit and publish a story to any platform.
Young Broadcasting stations across the country have one goal in mind: Get content in front of viewers wherever they are. That means delivering news on a flat screen TV at home, a smartphone on the train, a desktop computer at work and a tablet at a coffee shop.
And Young wants to make the process of getting the content — particularly news — to all those screens as seamless as possible.
It’s no easy task, but it’s a necessity, according to Young CEO Deb McDermott. “We are officially a multi-content company,” says McDermott. “We used to be a television station [company] and have a brand for a TV station — and we still have that, it’s still a very important part — but we are expanding that brand across all of our platforms. We are producing content that comes from many different places and goes out to many different places. In the past, the hub of the TV station was the assignment desk. Now the content is that hub.”
Two years ago, Young invested $25 million to completely overhaul its content workflow. It has moved all 11 stations to a server-based platform where everyone from field reporters to the evening anchor can access, edit and publish a story to any platform.
However, only independent KRON San Francisco and ABC affiliate WKRN Nashville have fully implemented the new workflow, says McDermott. The goal is to bring the other stations up to speed this year with the help of trainers from KRON and WKRN.
By getting rid of the middleman for any number of tasks, such as publishing a story to the Web, or pushing out a news alert on Facebook, the Young stations get more content out more efficiently.
“What’s so unique about this workflow is that everyone not only has instant access to all of the content from wherever they are; they have access to the original, raw files,” says Craig Porter, chief engineer at KRON and head of engineering for the group. “Being server-based and using the right software the right way leads to this ability to create content for whatever we need, whenever we need it.”
“All video resources are at everyone’s fingertips in one big pool,” says Brian Greif, KRON general manager and its former news director. “We dip into that pool constantly throughout the day, pulling content for our primary newscast, social media, 24/7 channel — everything.”
The workflow is based on Grass Valley’s Edius Pro, editing software that Young found also does a nice job of managing content.
“Young is certainly doing things pretty aggressively,” says Ed Casaccia, Grass Valley senior director of marketing. “They’ve been doing this exploring and experimenting for the past several years and have found a more economical way to create content and distribute it over different platforms, using Edius in ways that may have not been previously considered.”
Edius works because it can transcode and export content in a variety of formats. “KRON is using the Edius source browser, finding which assets they need, throwing those into a timeline and outputting to anything from a tiny Web thumbnail potentially up to a 4K image,” Casaccia says.
Edius users don’t have to worry about long-form calculations or complex steps to export to the different platforms. They can simply hit the F11 key on their keyboard and a long list pops up, filled with different export options.
Importing is also a seamless task because it doesn’t have to be transcoded, says Porter. That’s important because content arrives from multiple sources, like smartphones or a tiny, wide-angled GoPro camera.
“It doesn’t matter if it was ingested from field encoders or if it’s from a basic cellphone, we just drop it into the timeline in Edius and it automatically transcodes and exports to the format we need,” Porter says.
While KRON uses a Ross Video switcher with Overdrive automation and Chyron for graphics playback for its news production, its multiplatform workflow is powered by off-the-shelf IP technology says Bob Petersen, Young’s VP of station operations. “We’re using tools that are broadly used across multiple industries,” he says. “And it’s significantly less expensive.”
For example, in February, KRON launched a completely redesigned website that’s powered by popular content management system WordPress. Station leaders are hoping the simplicity of the CMS and its familiarity will help them quickly train veteran news staff and attract talented, tech-savvy journalists out of college.
“We felt this would be an opportunity to really get the most out of our new website, which is one of our most used platforms,” says Jim Carr, Young VP of digital strategy. “It’s a CMS that reporters can quickly post to in the field, throw in photo slideshows and video. It’s more empowering.”
Chyron Axis is used for graphic production on the air, but Young wanted to not only make production and workflow easier, but also attract designers from outside broadcasting.
That’s why they’re also using other popular software like Adobe Photoshop and InDesign. “Adobe’s software is cheaper and graphics people understand it more than a broadcast-specific type software,” Carr says. “The more talent we can attract, the better.”
The multiplatform approach has changed the practice of local TV news, says KRON News Director Aaron Pero. “I don’t think you can wait any longer to hold a story,” he says. “You need to publish as much as you can online — be it on our website or social media. Facebook, Twitter — those users know what’s going on. Nothing is a secret anymore, so we need to be ready to report the news from wherever and on whatever platform.”
While the station’s niche is breaking news, Pero says they don’t use live trucks that often. Instead, video journalists and videographers send back video content via FTP and the Internet.
For live shots, the station has been relying heavily on bonded cellular technology and the Internet via Wi-Fi hotspots. “We have four live trucks, but we reserve them for the best things. It’s just too expensive to use.”
Publishing to the various platforms still requires solid news judgment and quick thinking on the fly. “That’s why we have Internet-only editors who maintain our front page, and producers who are making decisions on what type of story should publish to a specific platform.”
Going forward, Pero hopes to have video on all online posts and expects that video to come from many sources. All reporters are given Android smartphones to use for video because it can easily be sent back to the station. “The first thing they do when they get on the scene is take a photo and send it back to us right away so we can get it up online, or they get it up while in the field,” says Pero.
They’re also using GoPro cameras for weather-related stories by putting a reporter in a car and mounting the palm-sized camera on the dash, giving viewers a personalized view of road conditions. The camera, which costs between $200 and $400, can also be hooked up to a laptop for live streaming.
“Again, people coming out of college know how to use this technology,” Pero says. “It’s really easy to use, allowing us to efficiently get the video and send it out to the Web or prep it for the evening news show.”
McDermott was quick to add that the primary TV broadcast is still most important because it represents the most revenue for the company, but it’s clear to Young that news, weather and traffic is quickly becoming a small-screen experience.
And she believes Young is leading the way. “We think that what we’re doing is the most efficient, cost-effective way of publishing to all of the platforms out there.”
This story originally appeared in TVNewsCheck’s Executive Outlook, a quarterly print publication devoted to the future of broadcasting. Subscribe here.